Do you love music? Well, do you love music enough to pay for it? Or even sit down and listen to an album for 30 minutes? In 2012, not many people can answer these questions affirmatively.
We all love having huge music libraries at our fingertips. Everything from Grooveshark to iPods to YouTube lets us make unique playlists from just about every song we can think of. It seems innocent enough, but our playlist culture is actually preventing the world’s best musicians from making a living.
In the past, record companies and bands held exclusive power to choose what tracks we heard on the CDs, cassettes and records they sold us. Because of this, we often played a whole CD or a whole record. But thanks to our digital gizmos, we hardly ever sit down and listen to full albums anymore.
The inattention of our playlist era is telling bands and companies to focus on individual “hits,” which are instant cash cows. Hit-making now trumps the industry’s old model of signing bands that made great albums. And the music industry’s growing emphasis on quick returns has done away with another virtue of labels: letting bands slowly develop their sound and fan-base.
Labels now put their faith solely in dipshits like LMFAO. Because even though sideshow acts like this haven’t proven — and never will — an ability to write great albums and hold a loyal fan base for decades, they have proven as quick and shameless a business venture as prostitution.
Even the indie world is guilty of running on one-hit wonders and 15-minutes-of-fame acts. In recent years, indie rock has sold itself out to countless car commercials. Just one example is when The Flaming Lips sold their song “Do You Realize” to Land Rover.
So don’t be fooled by their sheepish demeanor: indie rockers will take money wherever there’s money to be had. And they’re smart enough to know the indie world isn’t a place where fans stay devoted to you very long.
In the past, a jazz musician like Miles Davis, or a rock band like the Beatles, remained famous for decades. And their artistic reputations were earned legitimately, by putting out consistently great records.
With indie rock, however, you only need one cool video — or one hot review on a site like Pitchfork — to suddenly become this year’s biggest thing. And all too often, a hot indie band will play the big festivals and be touted on the Internet one year, only to be flushed down the shitter the next.
It’s obvious why serious musicians are being replaced by these marketing-savvy, Elvis-Costello-look-alike novelty acts. It’s because we don’t pay for music anymore! We all love stealing songs. But the saying “you get what you pay for” holds true in music.
No music label can survive without sales. And without thriving labels, bands are forced to devote more of their time to self-promotion and less toward actually making music. Face it: when we steal music we aren’t just robbing greedy businessmen; we’re robbing impoverished artists. Our theft, instead of making music less about money, actually heightens the financial worries of bands and labels.
At this point, I’m reminded of a question posed by the punk-band Propagandhi: “Anyone remember when we used to believe that music was a sacred place and not some fucking bank machine?”
You can be the most soulful singer in the world today, and nothing will come of it unless you can market yourself. If, however, you’re RedFoo — the musically challenged former stock trader in LMFAO — you will become the hottest act out there.
And if you’re the best band in the world today, but you have a bunch of fat, ugly members, the music world doesn’t want you. It’s despicable how music has become as much a visual medium as an auditory one. Sometimes I open a magazine like Exclaim! and feel like vomiting because the hip bands within its pages look so disingenuous. I know musicians always cared about image but it’s clear that, nowadays, many bands spend more time on their hair than their recordings.
With every passing year, the potential saviours of music fall deeper into poverty while musical hacks make more and more money. And the industry doesn’t give a damn. Being on life support, they’re only worried about the next financial quarter, not their next masterpiece.
So the responsibility falls on us — the music lovers — to ensure that good bands get on top again. We need to return to buying the music we believe in. Not only will this send a powerful message to the music industry, but it will also give our beloved bands the resources they need to make great albums.
Many people have said the Beatles’ later albums are some of the best pop recordings of the 20th century. Granted, the Beatles were living in Abbey Road Studios at this point. They stopped touring, making movies or even hobnobbing with the media. But because fans purchased Beatles records — by the shitload — the band could spend all their time doing the only thing real musicians want to do: making music.
Not every great band can achieve such financial security. But when a band doesn’t make any money, it’s outrageous to ask them for a masterpiece. And face it, if you don’t pay for music, you’re admitting that music is literally worthless to you. If you sincerely feel this way, I have no objections, as long as you only pirate shitty music.
Of course for some of us music is everything: a way of life, a religion, a fantastic drug and a freeing escape from the passionless, pointless world we drag our asses through every day. It just doesn’t seem right to let music suffer so badly.
Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf